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HENNESSY v. PENRIL DATACOMM NETWORKS

September 6, 1994

PATRICIA HENNESSY, Plaintiff,
v.
PENRIL DATACOMM NETWORKS, INC., Defendant.


ALESIA


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES H. ALESIA

This is a case of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Before the court are various post-trial issues.

 I. INTRODUCTION

 On April 19, 1994, the jury in this case returned a verdict. That verdict indicated that the jury found that, as to both defendants Penril Datacomm Networks, Inc. ("Penril Datacomm") and Richard Burns, sex was a motivating factor in their decision to terminate plaintiff Patricia Hennessy. The jury also found that plaintiff's intent to file a discrimination charge did not cause defendants to terminate plaintiff.

 The jury awarded plaintiff zero dollars in compensatory damages. However, finding both defendants acted with malice or reckless indifference to plaintiff's rights, the jury awarded plaintiff $ 300,000 in punitive damages against Penril Datacomm and $ 50,000 against Richard Burns.

 The parties have raised various post-trial issues to be resolved before judgment may be entered.

 II. DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT1

 A. Insufficiency of Evidence on Causality

 Defendants' arguments here are in large part an attempt to attack the jury instructions in this case. Therefore it is at least worthwhile by way of background to review what the jury was instructed in this case and why. Plaintiff's proposed instruction 30 was given by the court. That instruction explained that to succeed on her discrimination claim plaintiff had to prove defendants intentionally discriminated against her, that is that sex was "a motivating factor" in the decision to terminate her. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(m). The plaintiff, in proffering only this direct theory of discrimination, and not proffering the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting approach, McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973), opted to "walk[ ] as it were without crutches," Shager v. Upjohn Co., 913 F.2d 398, 402 (7th Cir. 1990). There was direct evidence of discrimination in this case, within the standards of Troupe v. May Department Stores Co., 20 F.3d 734, 736-37 (7th Cir. 1994), and so it was proper for the jury to be instructed as it was.

 All of this is by way of background to the real question on this motion, which is whether the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that sex or pregnancy was a motivating factor in defendants' decision to terminate plaintiff. *fn2" Here the analysis is guided by the Seventh Circuit's Troupe opinion, where the court instructed that evidence of discrimination can be direct, circumstantial, or both. See generally Troupe, 20 F.3d at 736-37.

 The court need not catalogue the entirety of the trial, especially where, as here, defendants have not come to terms with plaintiff's catalogue of the evidence that could lead a reasonable jury to its conclusion. (See Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict at 3-4.) A jury could reasonably conclude from the evidence at trial that sex or pregnancy was a motivating factor in defendants' decision to terminate plaintiff.

 In this regard, therefore, defendants' motion is denied.

 B. Insufficiency of Evidence on Malice or Reckless Indifference

 In this regard, therefore, defendants' motion is denied. *fn3"

 C. Validity of Punitive Damages Award

 The jury in this case awarded no compensatory damages, but awarded $ 300,000 in punitive damages against defendant Penril and $ 50,000 in punitive damages against defendant Burns. Defendants' argument here is based on the proposition that "no punitive damages may be awarded in the absence of actual damages." By-Prod Corp. v. Armen-Berry Co., 668 F.2d 956, 961 (7th Cir. 1982) (Illinois law). Plaintiff's dispute this proposition, but cite no contrary authority.

 It is not necessary for the court to reach the broad question of whether in any case punitive damages may be proper absent compensatory damages, because the court holds that the backpay award is, for these purposes alone, properly thought of as compensatory damages.

 The Supreme Court has recently noted that "Title VII's back pay remedy . . . is a 'make-whole' remedy that resembles compensatory damages in some respects." Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 128 L. Ed. 2d 229, 114 S. Ct. 1483, 1490-91 (1994). The back pay remedy is in some respects termed "equitable," see id. at 1490, but the court believes that for these purposes to cling to those categories would be overly formalistic. The safeguard in the rule (assumed to operate here) that punitive damages cannot be awarded without compensatory damages, appears to be that punishment of a party is inappropriate where there has been no showing of injury to another party. Otherwise, the civil justice system would function to punish "bad" behavior, rather than to right wrongs to the extent practicable between parties. In this Title VII case, back pay is plaintiff's compensation for injury at the hands of defendants, even if the law does not call it "compensatory damages." What defendants want to do is cut out the definition of compensatory damages from Title VII and ...


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